It’s been nearly two weeks without hockey, but some NHL teams are trying to fill that void. You might have seen a few teams doing sims of their 2019-20 schedule via the NHL 20 video game. There was even an alumni game sim between the Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques.
But there’s just broadcasting a sim of a game and there’s what the Devils are doing for their fans.
Devils fans are getting a full game-day experience with help of not only their content team, but also the players.
New Jersey’s March 19 game against the Flames was postponed, but the Devils ended up with 6-4 simulation win. But before the victory and Cory Schneider’s 98-save(!) performance, there was a morning skate to take care of.
As with any morning skate, fans got the line combinations via team reporter Amanda Stein’s wonderful penmanship:
Here’s your #NJDevils lineup for tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames:
🔸 Hughes moves back to center
🔹 Kuokkanen bumped up to second line
🔸 Defense remains the same
🥅 Schneider https://t.co/72B0LmDAbD pic.twitter.com/NlpB2sXhXX
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 19, 2020
As the game went on that night goals were clipped and Tweeted out to the team’s 83,000-plus followers. Following the final horn, a full postgame recap was posted on their website and a highlights package was created.
“When the season was paused we got together to think about how we can continue to engage our fanbase in a unique way but also keep the same cadence the fans are used to throughout the season,” Stein told NBC Sports.
“When the idea of the sim game came about, there was plenty of brainstorming on how we could incorporate some of our regular game-day coverage in this new and simulated world. As a team, we produce a ton on a regular real game-day, so there was a lot to work with.”
Getting players on board
Setting the Devils’ sim game experience apart from others is the inclusion of players. After Schneider’s 98-save night, Stein video chatted with him for post-game reaction, and he played along with it perfectly.
The buy-in from players to participate has created a more realistic game-day sim experience, even as we all isolate.
“Teams have all tried to engage their fans in different ways, but this felt like something unique to what we wanted to do,” Stein said. “Turns out, players were very into it.”
“They’re having fun with each other too,” she added, “whether it’s Cory saying his teammates need to be better defensively or Travis Zajac saying he hopes [Islanders defenseman and former Devils captain] Andy Greene turns into a pylon — they’re having fun with it and going along this ride with us. It makes my job easier and more fun too.
“Cory started the trend — he was the perfect guy for it. He really played into the idea and gave a straight-faced interview with some cheekiness after the first game and that just set the tone for the next couple of interviews. I haven’t had to explain to the players what we’re doing. When I connected with Miles Wood he was like, ‘Oh, yup, I’ve seen Schneids and Trav’s.’ So the guys are paying attention too, which is great.”
The Devils’ next sim featured a Wood hat trick against the Islanders. Fans responded as you’d expect by sharing videos of hats being tossed in their homes, adding to the experience.
“The response from fans has been fantastic,” Stein said. “It’s really heartwarming for us as a team to see people send messages through social media saying it put a smile on their face, or they laughed a lot, and even some people just saying it was great to hear from a player — even if it was about a simulated game.”
With hockey not returning anytime soon, the Devils’ content team has been using videoconferencing to brainstorm new ideas. It’s a time to get creative as fans are eager for their fix.
“The world is a different place these days, but that doesn’t change that our fans are still fans and are missing the game as much as we are,” Stein said. “So it’s up to us as a content team to maintain that connection and have that interaction.
“We didn’t want to ‘go dark,’ we wanted to get as creative as possible and give our fans a distraction and a sense of normalcy during these odd times, and so far I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.